3 Scriptural Promises that Speak the Language of Anxiety and Depression

Ray Of Light Forest Trees Sunlight Sun SunbeamAnxiety and depression are almost synonymous with our day, and they only seem to be growing with the lateness of the hour.

The memes may fly about how we’re the generation of the neurotic, but like many good jokes, it’s truer than we’d care to admit. The anxious and depressed long for a full, light, and steady heart. They’d give an arm for just a day of that. Instead, a great bell seems to hang from it, turning the mountaintops into plains, the plains into valleys, and the valleys…well, you can imagine. And like many bells, it takes only a small tap to start everything vibrating, shaking the heart with worried thoughts. You know what I mean – that chronic, racing overthinking, the endless suspicion, the corner of your soul that perpetually waits for the other shoe to drop.

The answer was intended to be passed from one generation to another. Instead, the reality of God’s faithfulness is becoming lost knowledge, like cursive, or how to speak Latin. Technology adds to the exodus. It’s a double-edged sword. I look around my youth group, or my classroom a few years ago, and mourn at the ease with which teenagers have all the chaos and discord of the world – and endless comparisons – beamed straight into their pocket. I’ve seen it truly paralyze some of them. It’s a burden they shouldn’t have to bear, yet one they can’t shed without falling behind in the world.

Everyone has a theory for anxiety and depression’s cause. Everyone, from theologians to self-help gurus to pharmaceutical companies to diet fads to Michelob Ultra to certain fallen angels of ill repute, claims to have locked down the solution. Drown it. Find stability in another’s arms. Stay distracted. Or busy.

The truth is, the cacophony of dueling answers is almost as discouraging as the problem. Accusation and confusion piggyback on what should be a lifejacket for the soul. And many of them don’t work, or backfire and make it worse. They’re proving they don’t speak the language. Ultimately, only God is the healer. Yet even we, his servants, struggle to get our story straight amongst ourselves.

I personally believe that the God who had a different war strategy for each stage of the Promised Land campaign, the Son who never healed someone the same way twice, prefers the personal touch. There might be many different ways God chooses to heal us. They might be extraordinary or mundane. And they might not operate on our timetable, for reasons that are far above my pay grade.

While we wait, however, God does not leave us empty. Though he cannot be anxious or depressed, God proves in his Word that he can still speak that language. It is amazing to peruse even familiar Scripture and find promises targeted straight towards our afflictions, like an ancient Rosetta stone buried in the earth. He fully intends to sustain us this side of the mirror dimly.

Here are three promises that have spoken to me.

 

1. “I do not condemn you for this.”

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Many Christians are under the impression that depression is a sin, a failure to adequately read (or believe) Scripture. They rebuke the anxious and depressed accordingly. A great many genuine, heartfelt followers of Christ therefore have guilt added to their burdens.

I don’t count myself in this camp. Anxiety and depression can stem from a place of spiritual ignorance (how depressing our future indeed without God!). But they can also be chemical, seasonal, hormonal, the product of spiritual warfare, or simply the soul’s response to tragedy. I know people whose depression clears up with caffeine. Others shed it by changing lifestyles or thought patterns.

More importantly, condemnation of the mentally beleaguered forgets the work of the Cross. If no sin or offense is beyond God’s forgiveness for the repentant, then neither are anxiety and depression – whether they’re sins or not. This reality ought to reign in our judgments, soften the contemptuous tone we sometimes level towards the depressed. They are instead candidates for grace – as are we all.

 

2. “I’m happy to reassure you as often as you need.”

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

One hallmark of anxiety and depression is seeking frequent reassurance of love – even from those who are closest and most loyal. Ever felt like you’re always vaguely “in trouble” somehow? Ever seen a friend act distant and assumed the problem is you, that you upset them with some little offhand word or action a month ago and they’re just too polite to tell you? Anxiety brings this stuff in spades.

I have friends with anxiety, and it’s amazing to watch their spouses. They know their mates’ needs, and they’ll “check in” with them on a regular basis. During a long church function, they sometimes won’t let an hour pass without swinging by to see how they’re doing. Though knowing they can’t be God to their spouses, they offer what they can. They don’t groan, roll their eyes, or tell their spouses to buck up. They took “in sickness and in health” seriously.

We see this understanding in Lamentations 3:22-23, though perhaps we never read it that way before. God is never outdone in compassion. He is not stingy, doling out a little love here and there, expecting it to tide us over for weeks and then chiding us when we long for more or forget a verse. Nothing in Scripture suggests that. He welcomes a daily dependence on him, promotes it – and then fulfills it, overflowing like the sunshine, oxygen, and moisture that never run out. If he gets frustrated, it’s because we don’t depend on him, that we try the independence thing and wind up dry and desolate.

No, God loves to check in with us. His words of love are written down in black and white, a limitless fountain at the turn of a page. He tells us to be filled with his Spirit, a regular activity like eating or drinking. He is not embarrassed or annoyed that we seek him again and again. He is delighted – and responsive.

 

3. “You will get a new mind one day.”

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Imagine the moment we see God and receive our glorified bodies – and minds.

Imagine the incessant weight of sadness lifted, falling from our souls like useless scales, never to burden us again. Imagine constant lightness of heart, for no reason other than God always wanted it for us. No more clouded intellect, or unshakeable cold-blanket pessimism, or constant replaying of every word or conversation looking for where you screwed up. Every corner of our soul now conquered and owned and healed fully by God. Everything clear.

Until then, it’s a war. No doubt about it.

But the war will end. For the Christian, God has planned an entirely new body and mind, and nothing can avert his plans. It will be yours. “But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.” (Matt. 24:13)

It may not be easy, but at least it’s simple. Endure to the end. Hold fast to his Word, for it does speak our language.

 

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5 Encouragements for the Long Road to Finding “Your People”

Silhouette Friends Happy People SunsetIt took me a while to find “my people”.

Returning home after the Air Force, I found friendmaking difficult. I’m far from a natural.

First I tried the church’s college group. Never really fit in. Then I latched onto a Bible study of older singles. They were good people but had grown up with more money, and therefore with hobbies and pastimes I struggled to get into. Regardless of where I turned, I found myself on many D-lists.

And just when I was finally starting to feel at home, God called me away on a four-year mission. I still traveled back and forth, but building friendships in that situation is constrained.

Honestly, those were lonely and confusing years.

It’s part of life. I don’t hold grudges; not everyone will like you, or needs to. And honestly, there are people I’ve regrettably put on my D-list.

Eventually, God turned things around. At this point I’d say I have found “my people”.

I tell this story because I know other believers in the same boat, and I want them encouraged. It can be a long trail to finding “your people”, the ones God gives us to share the steep or muddy stretches with, beyond the randomness of a small group. Our band of brothers, our caravan, the human-shaped blessings who “get” us and are healthy for us.

You think you’ve found them (high school); you lose them (college); you have to find new ones (adulting). I didn’t start gaining altitude again until about age twenty-five, and even then, the climb was barely perceptible.

But God was in it. He never leaves our side.

A few thoughts if you’re in the valley now.

 

1. Forgive.

It does no good to hold grudges towards those who didn’t connect with you. It only cuts you off from both God and others. Most of the people who politely turn down your friendship mean no harm, intend no ill messages, and wish you the best. Wish them back.

 

2. Ignore the messages.

Isolation will lie to you. Satan is quite happy to exploit such seasons with messages that blind you to your identity in Christ, messages of worthlessness and self-doubt. Fight that poison tooth and nail. Get into Scripture and find the antidotes. You are God’s.

 

3. Don’t settle.

I am 1) an introvert and 2) picky when it comes to people. It’s hard to regret these qualities, because they drastically cut down on the drama quotient in your life. But they can make friend-finding a longer process.

But 2) is Scripturally mandated. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Like dating, the temptation to just go along with those who “get” you, even if they’re not wise companions, is real.

Don’t settle. The wait is worth it.

 

4. Enjoy those you do find.

Sometimes our squad sneaks up on us. I was sometimes so focused on one person or group that I didn’t immediately notice the one or two loyal, interesting, high-character types that God was picking off each cluster for me. This is great. Trust me. They’re now my best mates, even from states or countries away. Relish them to the fullest.

 

5. Don’t give up.

God sometimes sends us on roundabout journeys to even his purposes (and we know life certainly isn’t accommodating). Don’t give up. You have not been abandoned. You’re not hopeless. You’re not globally incompatible.

Keep hitting your knees in prayer. Good things are coming!

 

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It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

waitingI have regrets.

So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)

Take in the gladness of this moment. The father doesn’t sit down forbiddingly, list his son’s errors one by one, or even let him finish his apology. He runs to him. You can see a weight lifted off his shoulders, months (years?) spent grieving over his son’s absence, perhaps waiting with dread for news of his death, evaporating in an instant. His relief and delight are unrestrained, bountiful, fierce.

And when the older brother would bring up the returner’s past (could we insert your own experience with bad churches here?), he is gently rebuked – and invited into the celebration.

But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (v. 29-31)

May God spare me from being the older brother. If I ever have, I repent of it. For Jesus also crafted whole stories to rebuke such a heart (read Matthew 18:23-35 for that), to shield the returning from the condemnation of those already at home.

Instead, may I be an older brother who invites you home. Who marshals the servants. Who helps find the robe, unshelf the ring, dust off the sandals, grill the steaks, and lead the household in a toast of gratitude.

This Father waits for you as well.

What if there is only relief and reconciliation waiting on the other side of admitting our past to God? What if God has decreed that no black record can restrain his love?

Test the story. Come home to God today and find rest for your soul.

When You Sin Seven Times in a Day

Hotel Summer Pool Infinity Luxury Sea Sky WaterI came across an article of John Piper’s in which he listed five besetting sins with which he struggles.

I chuckled bitterly. If only my list were that short.

Not that Piper claimed only five besetting sins, but I don’t even know how he could tier them. Mine certainly don’t lend themselves to stratification. They cling. They bite at my heels. They relentlessly pursue, like a dog who will not yield the chase, or the zombie who knows nothing but the taste of living blood.

I’m not rolling over, mind you. On some fronts, I’m winning more skirmishes than I’m losing.

But something in my heart refuses such encouragement. Total eradication is the goal. If I content myself with less, I will accomplish less.

And there are days in which I do indeed accomplish much less. Days that seem dominated, marked, headlined by sin.

Then, this evening, I read these words of Jesus to his disciples:

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Encouragement After Falling Into Sin

Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin. (Proverbs 24:16)

For the Christian who longs to please God (and thus demonstrates that God has indwelt their conscience), it is discouraging and heartbreaking to fall into sin.

Satan throws gasoline onto the flame of our frustration, saying that not only have we disappointed our God, but we will never do any better. He tempts us, gets us to cooperate with his agenda by committing sin, then turns around and shames us for it. A vicious one-two punch. Indeed, the Hebrew word “Satan” carries the meaning “accuser”.

Fortunately, we belong to God, not him.

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Christianity Doesn’t Bring Shame. It Removes It.

“Although I left Christianity over 20 years ago, it took a long while for me to erase the doctrines that had been embedded within my consciousness for 15+ years. Learning how and why certain doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., final judgment, burning fires of hell, Satan and his demons, the end-times) were introduced into the faith was extremely liberating … and removed a ton of guilt and fear.”

This individual* could be speaking for much of society.

14517262115_0b7dc7b411_oOur entertainment culture is embroiled in a race to paint Christianity as evil. And it’s got ammunition.

From Carrie to The Shape of Water, from Handmaid’s Tale to Family Guy, Christian faith is portrayed in modern media as a heartless and oppressive force in people’s lives, gone wild to the point of ostracizing, dehumanizing, handcuffing, and even killing in the name of God. Such excesses are so normative in TV and film, in fact, that I can’t remember the last time Hollywood filmed a church as a positive force, or even as a neutral one.

Yet there’s no doubt that such tragic systems have existed, and still do.

Some people have gone through it and escaped. Their testimonies poison our reputation. Christianity is seen as an agent of guilt, an imposer of shame that can only be removed by – I don’t know, what do they claim that churches are selling as a solution? Submitting to the system? Staying in church? Ceasing to dance or have fun? Accepting doctrine? It’s never really made clear.

Doctrine.

That horrifying, cringe-inducing, hateful, joy-sucking, monolithic wrecking ball of a word that so many have come to fear, that evokes structure and hate and frowny-faced elders in suspenders beating you upside the head with a Bible.

Doctrine actually tells a different story entirely.

Christianity is not a faith of guilt and fear, but of forgiveness, freedom and joy…and it is doctrine that tells us that.

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The Sin of Deflection

deflectionAnother year, another incorrect prediction of the world’s end.

I often wondered how these predictors interpret their constant misses, until I went on the internet and saw for myself.

They deflect.

Instead of acknowledging their error and apologizing to those they mislead, a lot of these people simply hide behind the sins (or perceived sins) of others. They accuse you of unbelief. They speak of the “mockers” and “scoffers” outside the kingdom who will get their “just reward” when Christ returns. As if any of this somehow ameliorates their own false prophecies. Deflecting.

A coworker responds to correction by pointing out how awful X and Y are at their jobs, and thus how unfair the criticism is. Deflecting.

Teachers spreading poor doctrine complain of being attacked. Deflecting.

Political candidates play down their own flaws and talk about those of their opponent. Deflecting.

And I?

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